Walker Fold & Dunscar: A Tale of Two Woods

February 13th and 20th 2022

It was the wettest of times; it was the wildest of times. Walker Fold Wood is part of the Woodland Trust’s Smithills Estate, and also part of the newly planted and expanding Northern Forest; Dunscar Wood is a Millennium woodland planted 20 years ago and growing towards maturity. I’ve combined the two tasks together because they tell a story of woodland management from new plantings to first thinnings, and also because I’m lazy and don’t want to write two posts covering largely the same subject.

So, Walker Fold. Walker Fold is an existing woodland consisting mostly of conifers, which doesn’t interest us very much because coniferous plantations have very little wild life value. The land nearby, however, has recently been planted with thousands of broadleaf saplings which are much more interesting and will provide plenty of habitat for wild animals, help with flood prevention, and help with soaking up carbon…. somewhat.

Our section grass was on a hillside near the corner of Walker Fold Road leading up to Colliers Row. On the day of planting heavy rain had made the area extremely wet, so wet that every time we dug a tree pit it would instantly fill will with water, this isn’t good, but there were a few less saturated spots that we manage to plant in. We planted spindle, way-faring tree, crab apple, and hawthorn the first three are less well known and don’t usually make it on to the top ten list of things we usually plant so well done to Roberta at the WT for doing something different. How many will survive is another matter.

This brings us to an interesting point about tree planting. In recent years large companies have bigged up their green credentials by paying for trees to be planted in order to offset their carbon footprint. Claims such as ‘We have planted 100,000 trees,’ sound really good, but if you plant 100,000 trees not all will make it to maturity. At one time a 10% survival rate was considered normal. Soil conditions, frost, disease, grazing by deer, root nibbling by shrews, and even the types of trees planted on a given site can contribute towards tree survival. Changes in planting methodologies, such as using tree shelters, have improved trees’ survival rates. Some studies indicate 30-40% of trees don’t survive to their 5th year, but this is complicated by which mix of trees are planted with some trees being more prone to failure than others. But there is another part of the woodland creation process that also accounts tree loss.

At Dunscar Wood the trees that were planted 20 years ago are now sturdy young trees with a bright future, but there’s just too many of them. The strategy of saturating and area with trees 2 metres apart is sound and sensible ensuring that you get the highest uptake possible, but 2 metres is not much room for a growing tree so thinning has to take place to cull the herd. Trees are preferably selected to remove any that are diseased or stunted, but sometimes healthy trees have to be felled just to make room for the survivors. There are some very complex formulas for selecting trees to take out, most are aimed at commercial forestry and maximising the revenue from a timber crop. Generally the first thinnings will remove 10% with more being removed with each round of thinning. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that between planting and maturity an area could lose 50% of its trees. Thinning is what we were doing at Dunscar Wood on a wet and windy Sunday. Taking down healthy trees can be really disheartening but you have to look at the bigger picture which is the long term sustainability of a woodland.

Trees take up carbon but only hold it out of the carbon cycle until the fall over and decompose, many climate scientists have pointed out that the value of tree planting for carbon capture has been overstated and the best way to reduce atmospheric carbon is not to put it there in the first place. The short version is don’t always believe the green hype made by billionaires.

However, planting trees will always be otherwise a good thing and trees have other important functions which make tree planting important: they provide habitat for wild life and consequently improve biodiversity, they hold soil in place with networks of root systems which help lessen the severity of flood events, and the also give conservationists something to do. So, planting trees is a far better thing to do to the landscape than has ever been done before, and it will be a far better future we will have than the one we have left behind. (Apologies to Charlie D for mangling his prose.. and his name.)

Many thanks to the Woodland Trust for letting us work on their two sites.

Dunscar Woods: Tree Thinning

14th October 2021

Dunscar Wood is a new woodland near Egerton, Bolton. The wood occupies 5.7 hectares of what was formerly green fields which were bought by the Woodland Trust in 1998 as part of their millennial Woodlands on Your Doorstep project. Old maps do show a small patch of woods in the area but not of any great size or significance.

The Dunscar Wood Management plan says that in 1999 wood was planted with a mix of sessile oak, ash, birch, cherry, rowan, aspen, holly, alder, hawthorn, blackthorn and goat willow. Mature sycamore is also present and is thought to be a remnant of previous field boundaries.

Pedunculate Oak
Pedunculate Oak

New woodlands such as this are often planted quite densely, with only 2 to 3 metres between each tree. Although there is always some loss through animal grazing, disease such as ash die back, and climatic conditions, the trees take up more room as they grow and need to be thinned out.

Another purpose of thinning is to improve the age structure of the woodland. One of the problems of planting lots of trees at once is that all of the trees are more or less the same age hence the mix of long lived trees such as oak and short life-spanned species such as birch. The Trust envisages that over the next 80 years the short lived species will die off, his will provide standing deadwood and fallen logs which will benefit a range of bird and invertebrate species; gaps in the canopy will benefit also woodland floor flora. This area of Bolton has limited natural tree cover and a limited mix of species, as the wood regenerates naturally this should improve and the wood will become self sustaining.

Candidate trees had been marked up by a Woodland Trust officer, many of them were diseased and posed a danger to the rest of the wood and the wood’s users. The day before the task many of these marked tree were taken down by chainsaw, leaving Sunday’s group the job of cutting them up and making the brash into habitat piles and log stacks. The day was also a good opportunity to train some of the younger members, and Duke of Edinburgh students, how to fell trees safely and how to use tools correctly.

Despite the amount of material dealt with there is still plenty left to do and we may need to come back at a later date. In the meantime well done everyone. Thanks to Rick, Tom and Caroline for organising, and special thanks to Mr. Riley of the Woodland Trust for letting us work here. Also thanks to Dunscar Industrial estate for allowing us to park.

Chew Moor: Field of Screams

October 31st 2021

Autumn Crocus
Autumn Crocus

Chew Moor, Lostock, a Site of Biological Importance, the importance being the autumn crocus that sprout up in September and October. The story is that the Knights Hospitallers brought them back from the Crusades, it was believed that they were effective against the Black Death but they were also more valuable than gold because of saffron. To prevent the valuable saffron being stolen the Knights laid a curse on the flowers, binding the spirit of one of their own to the meadow for all eternity. The ritual used to do this was gruesome and hideous and unbreakable, it is said, that on grim days his tall hooded shade can be seen walking the perimeter of the meadow in the exact areas where the crocus grows.

As BCV arrived on a cold October day the pale knight was already making his presence felt; punctured tyres, flat batteries, and sudden illnesses plagued the volunteers. Strange ghostly faces peered from the undergrowth as workers tried to cut back branches from the path, evil screams emanated from deep amongst the trees, and gloves would mysteriously go missing.

The volunteers tried to appease the vengeful spirit with cake and tea, and explained that the work was to help the meadow not damage it, cutting back the hedge and the trees would help improve habitat for birds and also help the flowers. The spook gave a hollow laugh and possessed a couple of our party to help speed the work along. He also made another one of the group so obsessed with the long handled pruning saw that we had to leave bits of him behind buried by the path.

All in all a typical BCV task.

If you want to see more creepiness go to Hallween Hall of Horrors.

National Tree Week

Longsight Park, Bolton, 6th December 2020

The Tree Council Logo

The Tree Council first established National Tree Week in March 1975 to support national replanting of trees after the outbreak of Dutch Elm disease. Each year over 250,000 people join in and plant trees across the country. National Tree Week is the UK’s largest tree celebration, annually launching the start of the winter planting season.

This year BCV has gotten involved with an event at Longsight Park, Bolton. Kids of all ages took part and planted over 300 trees in a neglected corner of the park. Using the tried and tested ‘T’ cut planting technique a mix of field maple, silver birch and sessile oak were planted along pre-prepared lanes. The trees were then protected using a first for us, cardboard tree shelters. The shelter seem a lot more durable that you’d expect and will protect the trees from grazing by deer and short-tailed field voles.

All photos were taken with parents’ permission. Family groups arrived at pre-arranged times to maintain social distancing and Tools were sanitised between uses. Thanks to T&C for organising and all the families for participating. Don’t forget to check Norman’s Christmas Cheer after viewing the photos, no captions this time, the photos speak for themselves. Happy Tree Week.

A Cut Above

Coppicing at Doffcocker Lodge, 8th November 2020

At the start of Lockdown 2.0 looked like BCV would be locking away the tools and hanging up our gloves for the duration but at the eleventh hour Bolton Council said we were good to go.. so we went. This time it was Doffcocker Lodge Local Nature Reserve, Bolton’s first, and for many years only LNR. The lodge was originally built to supply water for Bolton’s industry and made use of the site’s elevation and plentiful water supply from the numerous springs and streams running into the valley. Today it is a haven for bird life including kingfisher, reed bunting, willow tit, and an occasional stop over for bittern.

Doffcocker 2015
Doffcocker 2015

Our task today was harvesting osier stems from one of the 3 compartments on the northern shore. Coppicing, as it’s called is an age old woodland management technique that exploits our native trees’ ability to regrow after being damaged. Cutting these trees down causes them to regrow new shoots and stems which can be cut for firewood, charcoal making, or craft materials. In this case we’re coppicing a type of willow called osier to harvest stems for use in hurdle weaving projects at local schools. All of the willow that was cut will regrow and in doing so create habitat for birds and invertebrates. To prove it, we found a number of nests nestling between the willow stems.

Doffcocker Nest
Birds nest in willow coppice

So our super six set to work, only stopping to take a 2 minute break at 11 o’clock for Remembrance Day. In previous years our mass turnouts would have cleared the whole compartment in an afternoon but with our numbers limited to six we only managed to cut about two thirds- but we also created a dead hedge, harvested masses of stems, planted some sticks that should grow into more willow trees, and tidy up some rubbish. In three year’s time we can harvest here again. So, not just a win-win, but a win-win-win.

Incidentally, Doffcocker is derived from the site’s Celtic name meaning The Black Winding Stream. I bet you really wanted to know that, so now some photos.